From the tiny ramen-yas to the countertop sushi spots to the bustling izakayas, New Yorkers can’t seem to get enough of the numerous Japanese restaurants popping up in the city these days. A fair amount of these concepts are coming straight from Japan, and the majority of others are imports from LA and Britain. It’s a very promising time to be eating Japanese food in New York right now — take a look at the spots you should be hitting.
The gimmick of this hit, Japanese-based quick-service steak chain is that it is standing-room only — a choice meant to encourage efficient, in-and-out eating. The sole option here is steak (you can choose from a few different cuts), served thick and rare, with a side of corn and onions, plus a wide array of steak sauces for dressing your meat. It’s a hearty and surprisingly affordable option for meat lovers on the go, and there’s even a thoughtful bottle of Febreze in the vestibule for spritzing off that steak smell before you head out.
90 E. 10th St.; 917-388-3546
Speaking of gimmicks, here’s another one that also comes to New York from Japan, this time in ramen form. When you walk in solo, you are led into what the restaurant calls “flavor concentration booths,” where you are given a menu to design your own bowl of ramen, from the noodles to the toppings. The idea is that, in dining without any distractions, you have the opportunity to fully enjoy the flavors of your hot bowl of noodles — just as what is often done in Japan. Thankfully, even absent the gimmick, the soups here are rich, complex and satisfying.
374 Johnson Ave., Brooklyn; 718-381-0491
This hit sushi spot from LA specializes in high-quality omakase at an affordable price point. The set menus are simple, but they don’t disappoint: The fish is fresh and silky, the rice comes perfectly bouncy and the hand-rolls are particularly spectacular. Though the spot opened a few months back, waits are still extending up to three hours — the move is to come at lunch, when tables turn pretty quickly.
33 E. 20th St.; 347-705-8100
This Greenpoint izakaya is your new spot for Japanese-inspired cocktails and seafood, with a snack-y menu that includes six different variations on uni, including both uni toast and a mini uni rice bowl. The menu is the brainchild of Jeremy Arias and Iman Khondker, both formerly of Morimoto, so you can expect the same sort of casual-chic atmosphere. And just in time for summer, the space also has an ample backyard — perfect for day drinking Okinawa old fashioneds.
TsuruTonTan, yet another import from Japan, has udon making down to a science. The noodles are springy and thick-cut, the broths are deeply flavored and the proportion of noodles to soup to add-ons is always just right. The classic preparations are excellent here, but don’t be afraid to go for the more adventurous options, like the truffle crème with mushroom — you won’t be disappointed.
21 E. 16th St.; 212-989-1000
It was only a matter of time before conveyor belt sushi made its way across the pond. The popular London-based chain gained a cult following in Britain with its simple but ingenious concept of individually plated sushi that snakes its way around a countertop via a conveyor belt (a nifty color-coding system will tell you the price). The New York location even has a lengthy cocktail menu, so you can enjoy your tuna rolls alongside yuzu margaritas.
23 W. 23rd St.; 646-781-8640
From the ashes of Sushi Zen, the beloved, 30-year-old spot that closed last year, comes Suzuki, a three-part restaurant, consisting of Satsuki, for omakase; Three Pillars, for cocktails; and Suzuki, a kaiseki restaurant with a set menu. For die-hard Japanese food lovers, it’s the kind of place where you could spend a whole evening.
114 W. 47th St.; 212-278-0010
Sushi by Bou/Sushi by Bae
Affordable omakase is having a serious moment in the city. The latest contender is Sushi by Bou in Gansevoort Market, run by chef David Boudahana, who pioneered the concept of quick, affordable omakase counters with Sushi on Jones in Bowery Market. For just $50, you get 12 very fresh pieces of sushi and just 30 minutes to eat (it's timed). The time crunch can be somewhat stressful, but it’s a chance to get a Jiro-quality menu for a fraction of the cost. Zagat 30 Under 30 Oona Tempest (previously of Tanoshi) also recently announced a pop-up in the same space (just four seats) debuting May 18 that will be slightly pricier at $100 and vary from one hour to an hour and a half (not timed). Selections will vary each night and will highlight cured and preserved ingredients. Text-only reservations for Bae available at 347-496-4221. And yet another option is Sushi Katsuei, which just opened up a new location for its $60 omakase in the West Village.
Sushi by Bou: 353 W. 14th St.; 917-870-1587
Bar Moga takes its cues from 1920s Japan — the name "Moga" is short for "modern girl," Japan's flapper equivalent. Accordingly, the cocktail parlor embraces hedonism, with bold, Japanese-influenced cocktails and a short menu of creative bar snacks inspired by Yōshoku, the Japanese term for Western food cooked Japanese style (think croquettes and rice burgers).
128 W. Houston St.; 929-399-5853
E.A.K. Ramen bills itself as a “modern” ramen concept, serving Ié-kei soups that combine both tonkotsu (pork bone–based) and shoyu (soy sauce–based) broth. Also unique to E.A.K.’s ramen is the noodles — they are much thicker and straighter than your typical ramen noodles, apparently serving to better complement and soak up the salty, rich broth. Look for it to open at the end of May.
469 6th Ave.; 646-863-2027